Last Night's TV: The Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best/BBC2
The Big C/More4
Marchlands/ITV1

Rather like Ant and Dec, it's quite hard to tell the Hairy Bikers apart. This doesn't seem to matter. They move as one, enthuse as one, chomp and swallow and gurn as one. The only time they distinguish themselves is when arguing. Pretend arguing, that is. "It's tree-cal," hiccuped one (Si?), holding up a can of Lyle's Golden. "It's sirup, man," boomed the other (Dave?).

They are – in the parlance of their reality-TV equivalents – engaging in one long Bush Tucker Trial, travelling around the country to celebrate home cooking. Last night saw them on a quest for comfort food – "food that makes us feel that little bit better," they said – from the home-made plum crumbles to the nettle puddings and the hand-raised pork pies. Oddly, for a programme called Mums Know Best, they started the whole thing off with Dee's dad's Denby Dale pie.

Dee, we learned, hasn't been entrusted with her family's recipe before. It's nothing too complicated – just a beef casserole, really, with a pastry crust – but it's all in the seasoning. So much so that Dee's dad has a name for it: 6119, like George Harrison's Gretsch. Anyway, off she went to fry off the beef, boil the potatoes and reduce the gravy. The bikers even helped her cut out a little cowshape to crown it. "Not bad for a first attempt," concluded dad, on tasting.

Away from Denby Dale, there were less traditional options on offer. In Blackpool, the beef curry Anjie's mum used to make, at Castle Howard, a posh fish-finger sandwich (salmon rather than Birds Eye). Everything, said the bikers, was "unctuous". It's their word.

The crowning glory – the grand finale of the whole homely quest – was a "comfort food fair", complete with food historian and pineapple upside down cake. Our bikers bounded round, enthusiastically tasting the various concoctions on offer. Nothing was bad. Rather sweetly, each individual mouthful warranted a round of applause. I'm not quite sure of the programme's purpose– what with Britain's Best Dish, Rick Stein's Food Heroes et al – it's hardly the first of its kind, but I did quite like it. Rather like the dishes on offer, it was vaguely comforting. And there are, after all, worse things than that.

Judging from its first two episodes, The Big C isn't quite the taboo-breaker we might have hoped. America's much-vaunted "cancer comedy" has seen the critics divided over matters of taste, and its star – the effervescent Laura Linney – hailed for her performance.

But The Big C isn't really about cancer at all. Yes, the illness features as a (fairly crucial) plot device, but so could a host of other life-changing events. To wit: last week Linney's character, harassed mother Cathy Jamison, discovered that she has terminal melanoma. She doesn't, however, tell anyone about this. Neither does she seek treatment. Instead, she treats the diagnosis as a kind of free pass to start living life as she always should have. Without telling him why, she booted her husband out of the house. She had wasted, she reflected, too many hours closing his cupboards and washing up his glasses. She decided to start teaching her son a few lessons, like, for instance, that if he doesn't tidy his room, she'll give away all his clothes. In short, very little time is spent dealing with the whole cancer side of things. The Big C is a tale about a woman who decides to change her life – live each day as one of her last. It could have been cancer that triggered it, or it could have been another illness. It could, in fact, have been a number of things. The cancer is incidental, lurking in the background. Never discussed, never described, it remains but a bit player.

None of which is to say that The Big C isn't worth watching. Linney is predictably enchanting as our diem-seizing heroine, and Oliver Platt comfortably amusing as her down-at-heel husband. Her son, played by Gabriel Basso, is really quite shockingly horrid, possibly too much so, at times. Why, I found myself wondering, does Jamison put up with his bratishness? And Gabourey Sidibe makes a rather joyous addition as Andrea, an overweight student Cathy is trying to get in shape.

It's this strength of casting that must account, in large part, for the show's success. They bestow on it that easy watchability that the Americans do so well. Beyond that, there's not much to distinguish The Big C from the countless other above-average series around at the moment. The script is unremarkable: lightly amusing but not much more, at times a little saccharine. The concept itself isn't all that novel, and it makes way for a few not-terribly-attractive clichés (the doctor complimenting Jamison on her "awesome rack", the punch line, presumably, being that she's ancient and therefore nigh on incapable of being found attractive). Hopefully, The Big C will start to feature the Big C a little more. In the meantime, there are worse things on television.

Week two of Marchlands, and things have taken a turn for the weird. Or, if you like, the even more weird. All final vestiges of psychological thriller abandoned, we've plunged headlong into full-on ghost story. It's dubious territory, and it comes with a dubious box of tricks – surprises in the mirror, creaking swings, mystery handprints – but you know what? I think like it. Things are genuinely creepy, occasionally quite frightening. Coupled with classy performances and a commendable absence of special effects, it's really rather gripping.

a.jarvis@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/aliceazania

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil